Welcome to my first ever blog post! I hope to post on a range of topics that intrigue me.
Adam Bellow states correctly that nepotism has been with human history since the beginning of our species. He states that biological nepotism is the basis of social cooperation and became the main tool that has allowed our species to thrive and colonize the planet. The biological drive to care for one’s relatives has evolved complex patterns of social reciprocity that not only allowed for society to be created, but for civilization to flourish.
As Westerners, we have been socialized into believing that nepotism is a bad thing. To most of us, nepotism is synonymous with corruption and familial self-interest. Bellow explains in 420+ pages that nepotism has redeeming qualities, has played a critical role in the development of every historical figure, and that we are fooling ourselves if we think it will go away.
Starting from the nepostic practice amongst animals, moving on to ancient cultures, and then to the modern era of the political dynasties in American politics (the Kennedys and Bushes), Bellow explains through literary reference and analysis how nepotism has helped humans thrive. Bellow pulls off a Jared Diamond effort in explaining how nepotism has influenced society and civilization. Using vivid examples from Africa, China, and Greece, we are shown how we need nepotism and that practicing it properly is both rational and healthy.
Bellow is not an academic and his writing style is easily accessible. The book is targeted for the general public, to invoke in them an appreciation that we are not governed by rational, meritocratic thinking as much as we may like. It was fascinating to read the nepotistic treatment he gives to Napolean, the Kennedys, Abraham Lincoln, and many others. Not one among them, could have made the historical marks they did without the support of family or friends.
Bellow’s tone is dramatic and engaging, his writing style fluid and eloquent. Nobody else has written such an accessible book on the understanding of nepotism. He definitely changed my own understanding of nepotism. I picked it up only because I wanted to ‘know thy enemy’. Being an avowed meritocrat, I had a low opinion of nepotism. While I am still a believer of meritocracy, I no longer believe it is a system that actually works as it is popularly defined.
Meritocracy as it is practiced in large organizations is devoid of personal relationships. Most people would view meritocracy is ‘the best person who is the most qualified should get the job’. Nobody can argue with that rational argument, but the devil is in the details. How do you find the best person and know that they will actually be able to perform the job? It is also just as rational to choose amongst two qualified candidates the person you personally know will do the job. That is nepotism at work.
Nepotism is in fact a form of self-governing meritocracy. You are judged by the people you know. The people who promote you put their reputation on the line if you do not live up to expectations. Nepotism comes with social pressures to be productive and to fit in. Nepotism is not in conflict with meritocracy, but at its best can be the ideal, non-bureaucratic method to determine who is worthy of being supported and promoted.
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 – everyone should read this book if they enjoy non-fiction literature